Another deadline looms that could mean the difference between San Francisco officials maintaining planning controls or allowing a free-for-all of development, and it's happening because state housing officials are exerting serious pressure on the city to build more housing.
Last year around this time, there was widespread anxiety in the local media and at City Hall about whether San Francisco would meet the deadline to get its Housing Element approved. The document, updated about every decade, lays out the city's goals for housing development, and state officials have been talking tough about holding San Francisco to account with the Housing Element and getting the city to build more housing faster.
SF succeeded in getting its Housing Element approved on time — unlike dozens of other jurisdictions around the Bay — and it mandates that the city build 82,000 new housing units by 2031.
At that pace, the city should be approving 855 new units per month, but in the first six months of 2023, SF only permitted about 30 new units per month, or 179 units in total. That prompted a fresh rebuke from the state Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) last month, with a report that laid out how SF's permitting process for housing is the slowest in the state, with an average of 523 days for a housing project to get its initial entitlements in SF — compared to 385 days in the next slowest jurisdiction.
HCD gave the city one month to pass Mayor London Breed's ordinance that intends to quicken the pace of housing approvals, but as the Chronicle reports, the Board of Supervisors hasn't seemed to be in any particular hurry. In fact, Board of Supervisors President Aaron Peskin and Supervisor Connie Chan have put forward a resolution to have City Attorney David Chiu push the state to extend its deadlines. The supervisors say that HCD is overly focused on market-rate housing, which the city has built plenty of, and their demands need to take affordable solutions into account.
Per the resolution, they say that HCD has a "singular focus on private development policies and practices, and without sufficient measures to address racial equity, fair housing practices, affordability, and displacement."
HCD spokesperson Pablo Espinoza tells the Chronicle that no deadline extensions are being considered, and the city will be sent a "corrective action letter" next week, if they miss the November 27 deadline to pass the constraint-reduction ordinance.
That letter will "start the process to revoke housing element compliance," Espinoza says, and per state law, "various consequences may apply if a city does not have a housing element in compliance with Housing Element law," including the "builder's remedy." As we learned last fall, that entails letting any and all developments get permits, without city review, so long as they include a minimum number of affordable units.
"We cannot go down the path of housing element decertification," says Jeff Cretan, spokesperson for Mayor London Breed, in a statement to the Chronicle. "That is deeply concerning. Not only would it put at risk affordable housing and transit funding but it would set us backwards in a significant way."
SF Planning Director Rich Hillis is optimistic that the supervisors will still pass the legislation, somehow, in time. And Supervisor Myrna Melgar tells the Chronicle that the legislation has been crafted by Chiu's office and "I'm proud of our collective effort," Melgar says.
Photo: Kimson Doan